How can we force big brands to act on sustainable fashion?

When you walk into Zara, H&M or any other high street retailer, do you ever think about the social and environmental damage that has been caused to produce the vast array of clothes at our disposal?

Changing Markets recently released a report revealing fashion’s dirty little secret. Viscose. Specifically dirty viscose. Despite our expectations as consumers that the clothes we buy are produced in an ethical and environmentally safe manner, unfortunately this is often not the case.

Dirty Fashion

The world’s biggest brands are turning a blind eye to the impact that their supply chains are having on both people and planet. Changing Markets’ shocking report ‘Dirty Fashion: How Pollution In The Global Textiles Supply Chain Is Making Viscose Toxic revealed direct links between polluting factories in Asia and major European and North American fashion brands.

The combined voices of Teen Vogue, The Guardian, HuffPost and Buzzfeed pushed discussion into the mainstream, raising awareness of the impacts of viscose production and the importance for consumers to take a stand against the brands supplying fast-fashion.

Livia Firth, the eco-fashion activist and founder of eco-age picked up on the coverage and commended Teen Vogue for highlighting the issue to a younger, fashion savvy audience who can vote with their purse and make tomorrow’s change happen today.

Dirty Fashion

The report was also picked up by BBC Radio 4, with a feature on You & Yours looking into the ethical policies of our high street retailers and unsustainable consumer habits. The BBC interviewed Natasha Hurley, Campaigns Manager at Changing Markets on the results of their investigations, and invited 13 companies mentioned in the report to come on the show. Not one agreed. Instead, the majority of the retailers provided statements commenting on the steps they would be taking to improve the management of their supply chains.

As a result of this coverage, a petition was started by campaigning organisation WeMove.EU calling on consumers to support demands for high street retailers to “immediately commit to a zero pollution policy and timeline, work with producers to transition to clean technologies, and stop purchasing from producers who fail to comply”.

The petition has now been signed by nearly 150,000 people, and the resulting pressure from consumers has already led to Zara, H&M, M&S, Tesco and ASOS issuing statements in response to the Dirty Fashion report.

ASOS: “We’re committed to reducing the impact of manufacturing processes on the environment so welcome a report that brings to attention alleged environmental pollution. We’re now actively working with suppliers, trade bodies and industry counterparts to address the issues raised.”

H&M told HuffPost UK that they: “…take the report’s findings very seriously and the company will be conducting its own questioning of the viscose producers it works with.”

Dirty Fashion

The report also highlights that new viscose production methods already exist, which do not rely on the abundant use of toxic chemicals and bring manufacturing into a ‘closed loop’ so that the chemicals which are used do not escape into the environment. With a small group of just 11 companies controlling 75 per cent of global viscose production, there is a clear opportunity for rapid and transformational change across the sector.

You can read the full report from Changing Markets here, and support the petition calling on brands to make the change here.

If you represent a campaigning organisation that’s looking to bring an environmental issue to the public’s attention, we would love to hear from you.


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